Conscious returned slowly; Kisea battled the haziness, experience insisting that it was dangerous.
Clearing her thoughts still didn't help immediately, since she had no idea where they were other than a shred of memory suggesting the manor house.
“Jordan Manor,” Matt confirmed sleepily. “My room. Mm. Bath. Real food. Clean clothes. In some order. Then maybe I'll feel like facing the world.”
“It will take a lot more than that for me to feel ready,” Kisea muttered, but she rearranged herself so she could lean over him and kiss him. She could taste lingering traces of blood, her own mostly, and ignored them. A weakness for alasir meant accepting some quirks of nature.
Matt wrapped both arms around her, returned it with considerable enthusiasm, and surprising energy given the condition he'd been in the previous night. At least he still recovered quickly and completely.
His mind against hers made her wince and stifle a yelp; he drew back instantly, both mentally and physically, grey eyes searching hers in concern.
“Oh... you pushed too far?”
“Without my crystal, I was fighting the only other controller I've ever met, who did have one.”
“So, yes, then.” He let his arms fall, shifted sideways towards the edge of the bed.
She moved in turn, swung a leg over his to straddle him, and gave him a more fierce kiss. “I didn't say stop.”
He linked his hands loosely at the small of her back, but against the raw edges of her mind, she could feel the conflict, wanting to respond, worry for her.
“I don't want you hurt any more,” he said softly. “Least of all by me. Not ever.”
That would have been laughable, had he not meant it so honestly and literally. She considered answers, evasions, and settled for the simplest, the truth. “I don't care. Gentle and sweet and romantic and special can wait. Hurting doesn't matter. I want you, now.”
“Sirens,” he sighed theatrically, but he didn't mean it any more than she really minded losing a little blood. One hand ran up her spine, curved around the back of her neck to bring her down for another kiss; the other traced the lines of her waist and hip and bottom. Harder now than the last time he'd touched her, more muscle under the siren curves that were less pronounced than before thanks to too many missed meals, her skin roughened by time outdoors and marked by scars here and there.
Matt, as far she could tell, didn't mind.
Neither really had the stamina—or patience—right then for anything particularly long or strenuous, but nonetheless, Kisea snuggled against him contentedly. Far too many nights of longing to be right here. Whatever came next, at least there was no more bleeding from that particular never-healing wound. Matt hugged her close, in no hurry to move, and for a change with nothing to say.
Until he finally broke the silence. “Bath?” he suggested.
“Probably good,” she admitted. “The last one I had was in a lake, and that was a couple of days before being abducted and hauled around on horseback—although at least Jori doesn't smell as horsey—and tackling extremely nasty people and left with absolutely nothing except my own body and what used to be my second-best chemise.” What she most wanted to wash was the inside of her head, anywhere Alfeo’s fingerprints might linger.
“You do have something more than that,” he pointed out.
“Oh?” She wriggled away, pushing back the quilt, and sat up.
“The gratitude of Lord and Lady Jordan. And, incidentally, my heart. And body. And everything I own.”
She favoured him with a look of pure exasperation; he only gazed back innocently, until she gave up, rolled her eyes, and got out of bed entirely.
“For the record, though,” he added appreciatively. “That body you own is a very very nice one.”
“No complaints about yours, lover,” she purred. Less muscular than either of his cousins, he nonetheless hadn't gone soft the way some mages did; of course, as perpetually active as he was, and she figured he probably still spent time on the road with his cousins, that made sense.
“Do you want your crystal back?”
“Hold onto it. I'm staying strictly in my own mind for the moment.”
The room they were in was a pleasant one, comfortable and pleasing with expensive-looking furnishings that were nonetheless subdued rather than ostentatious. The bed had curtains to draw around it in the winter, currently tied back, plain weave but in soft warm yellows and browns that matched those of the curtains on the two large glazed windows and the dominant colours of the quilt and the braided rag rugs on the floor. Under one window was a reading couch, a small table near it bearing a haphazard stack of books; under the other was a long table, two carved chairs along the long side and a third at one end, with ample paper mixed with more books in a chaotic pile at the opposite end. A set of shelves held yet more books and more paper, but other things as well, odds and ends that might be decorative or sentimental but in a sorcerer's quarters might have more practical uses. Near it was an armoire, the same deep reddish-toned wood as the rest and carved with similar designs, and next to that a carved stand with wide wooden hooks projecting tree-like on all sides, several of them with items of clothing hanging from them.
Draped neatly over the back of one of the hard chairs was a collection of fabric that, even at a glance, included a skirt.
Lying on the table was a coil of heavy silver chain, the links flattened, attached to a medallion. Not quite round, but six-sided, and bearing a deeply engraved six-sided star with a heart of sparkling white opal. She flinched instinctively from the physical symbol of the Oath.
“Your room?” she said, confirming his earlier identification, but it screamed to her of his personality anyway.
“Yes. Kian's on one side, Shon's on the other.”
“A bit understated for Lord Jordan's High Warden of the Peace, isn't it? I'd expect that to come with a private suite and your own staff.”
To her amusement, he actually blushed. “It's just a job. I could've done without the title, but it's a means to an end. I mean, to accomplish anything, I suppose I really do need the amount of authority he gave me, and it helps when people have symbols to make things more visible and easier to grasp. Everything works better all around when people just cooperate instead of my having to coax, bribe, and threaten.”
No, the title does it for you this way. And it isn't just a job, not for you.
“Rob told me ages ago I could hire whoever I need to help,” he added thoughtfully. “I haven't, because I was still figuring out how things need to work and I didn't have anyone in mind that I thought I could trust in every sense. But going through every legal decision in Jordan takes forever. And if I'm away, there's really no one who knows what's been going on to handle things. And I plan to have time to spend with you. I think I have someone perfect in mind, she's probably not going to want to stay in the town she's in right now after what she's been through, but first she has to be able to get out of bed and travel. I did ask a mutual friend to bring it up if it looks like she's going to disappear before I can get back to talk to her. But the Manor staff handle everything else perfectly well. And what would I do with more rooms?”
The clothes, she discovered, were a complete set, and even included a pair of soft slippers that wouldn't last an hour outside. “Someone was very thoughtful,” Kisea observed.
“You've probably barely begun to see people being thoughtful. The rest of this hall is the rooms kept for my parents and Kian's parents, one other guest room that isn't used often although I suppose they'd let you have it if you wanted your own, a bathing room just for the rooms in this hall, and a small sitting room that's rarely used. So we aren't likely to run into anyone, least of all anyone who cares how dressed you are. Still, just in case there are any servants around...” He took something of a mellow green from the rack and draped it around her shoulders—it turned out to be a short cape that reached to her knees but was probably hip-length on Matt, with arm-slits and carved buttons down the front, thick soft plushy wool that would be wonderful for keeping warm while reading in cold weather. One-handed, he pulled a longer robe of undyed wool around himself, and gestured towards the door.
The bathroom was large and bright and very clean, with a deep tub of heavy carved wood lined with copper, and a large copper boiler with a low fire under it to provide hot water, along with cold water from another one in the opposite corner. The only windows were small and high and thickly glazed, keeping out chills.
Obviously, if you had enough money and power, getting clean in lukewarm or cool water while shivering in drafts wasn't an inevitable fact of life anymore.
Getting cleaned up hadn't felt like this in a long time. Even the soap was gentle and sweet-scented, with a bottle of a liquid soap that smelled different to use on hair. Matt helped her scrub herself all over, including her hair, taking tender care of the cut on her breast and the small ones on her wrist, the shallow bruises on her other wrist that she hadn't noticed from fighting Kian's hold on her and the deeper bruise on her cheek from Trinai's slap, and she felt a tightly-controlled little ripple of protective anger over every scar.
Then, despite her protests, he let the water drain and refilled it and helped her do it all over again. He was right: after that second washing she finally felt truly clean, an uncommon state lately.
“There,” he said in satisfaction, wrapping her in a huge towel of something thick and absorbent. “I like it when you smell like you and like outside, but it still feels good to get properly clean.”
“But if I used all the hot water...”
He rolled his eyes. “I can do some things without being useless for hours afterwards. If there isn't enough hot water, then being cold for the length of time it takes to get it hot is relatively easy to take if I can be in hot water through it. And heating water doesn't take very long.”
Rather than getting dressed, she helped him in turn, though since his life had involved more contact with soap and hot water lately, it was a much simpler task.
Back in his room, Matt swung open the armoire doors, revealing a set of drawers and shelves down one side and an open section for hanging things up on the other, and bent down to rummage in the upper of the two full-width drawers underneath, collecting items over one bare arm.
Kisea decided that the clothes that had been left for her definitely had some thought behind them. Rather than a more fitted blouse, there was a loose chemise of a comfortable size similar to her own that had disappeared, but this one was of extremely high-quality bleached linen. The bodice to go over it was sturdy and quilted, woven of fine wool in a pleasant mossy green, and though she couldn't lace it quite together across her chest and it was a trifle loose at her waist and lacked the extra adjustment options leather ones usually had, it was a better fit than she could have hoped under the circumstances. The skirt was a full-circle one, a darker green but there was a leafy pattern on it that was a much paler green, a rather pretty effect, and the wool was like that of the bodice, very soft. Drawstring drawers to go under it, of similarly fine linen, and the slippers with their thin quilted soles.
“I like you in anything or nothing, but you look gorgeous in green,” Matt said. “It makes your hair that much more red.”
“There've been a lot of times I've wanted to cut most of it off and dye whatever's left any colour except red.”
“I know.” He gave her a quick, one-armed hug, before pulling a wheat-gold tunic over his head over his shirt and tugging it straight over darker brownish-gold trousers. That figured: where he could have had high fashion like Alfeo's, he chose comfortable and practical—even if that tunic alone was probably worth more than many people saw in a year. “I'll help with your hair.”
She perched obediently on one of the hard chairs while he carefully worked the knots out.
“Are you sure you aren't using magic?” she teased. “You never pull.”
Through the window ahead, she could see a long way out over fenced pastureland and cropland, much of the former home to what could only be horses. But then, that was what the Jordan House had been known for, for generations, until the most recent generations became notorious for their refusal to accept the dominant racial distrust—and, apparently, extending it to refusal to accept that a woman's place was inevitably secondary even in the North. Would that new tradition last and spread, she wondered, or would it be forgotten and lost in a few generations, swept under by the tide of fear and hatred and ignorance?
Matt tossed her hair, now neatly braided and tied with a green ribbon, forward over her shoulder. “See, I haven't forgotten since you taught me.”
She smiled, ran a finger along the braid, found it smooth and tight. “No, you haven't.” Presumably there had been other lovers in between, who might well have enjoyed that extra personal attention; it didn't matter. It was unlikely, knowing Matt, that there'd been even half as many as the lovers she'd chosen willingly.
“It's about time you two were up and about,” Shon said in alasiran from the open door. “Would you like to join Kian and Kalli and I for lunch?”
Kisea's stomach rumbled at the mention of food.
“I guess so,” Matt chuckled, offering her his hand to help her up.
He left his medallion on the table, she noticed, rather than putting it on.
Shon eyed Kisea admiringly. “You look good in that.”
“Everyone wants me dressed like a lady,” she complained halfheartedly.
“What's wrong with that, if you aren't out on the road?”
She didn't really have an answer.
“Where?” Matt asked.
“Kalli's sitting room. She isn't feeling up to facing the dining room yet, and thought you might feel the same.”
“She's right,” Kisea said.
Both clearly knew where they were going, and she had to admit to a certain guilty pleasure both in the sensual soft fabrics and the heavy sway of the unfamiliar full skirt, and in her escort, though she found the building highly confusing and more than a little intimidating.
Shon tapped on a door with a carved and highly polished frame and pushed it open without waiting for an invitation.
The room beyond was an odd mix of the ladylike and the practical. Furniture of rich deep golden wood, upholstered in creamy white, had blankets tossed over it that were a mix of sometimes jarring colours; paintings on the walls were mostly of horse imagery, but the curtains on the windows were woven with delicate flowers in soft pastels. A roll-top desk in one corner held what looked like a substantial leather-bound ledger of some sort along with several neat folders of paper and, incongruously, a length of leather that Kisea thought was from a horse's tack being used as a paperweight. A closed door probably led to a bedroom.
There was a round table as well, which probably was about the right size for three chairs with four starting to get a little crowded, currently with five surrounding it. Kian was already in one chair, Kallima beside him. The girl looked much better for having gotten thoroughly clean; there were bruises and abrasions around her neck from the collar, and she still looked pale underneath skin that had more colour than most ladies, but she greeted them with a dazzling smile and rose from her chair to come meet them. Her brown-blonde hair was in a single braid with a rosy ribbon threaded through it, matching the flowers embroidered on her blouse and one shade in the finely-patterned bodice, but rather than a skirt, she was in the kind of loose trousers Kisea vaguely recalled her mother wearing the night before—thought they were rose-patterned brocade.
“I don't think I've ever been so grateful to be home,” she said fervently. “And I wouldn't be without you.” She held out both hands to Kisea, and when she accepted them, she drew the telepath into an unexpected tight embrace. “I suppose they might have let me go in the end, but it's unlikely. I owe you my life. And my cousins' and Shon's.”
Kisea shrugged. “A lot of it was just luck.”
“For me, very good luck, then. And I hope it turns out that way for you, too.” Gently, she brushed the bruise on Kisea's cheek with her fingertips. “The healer already went over all of my scrapes and bruises. I think we need to get her to see you, too.”
“There's nothing that won't heal on its own before long.” She'd been in worse condition with no healer available.
Kallima smiled. “I'm afraid you're going to have to bear with my parents and I wanting to treat you like a queen. Try to indulge us. I'm supposed to pass on their gratitude and so on and so forth, and make certain you know how welcome you are, but that can wait until after we eat, can't it? Come sit down. I'm sure you need a good meal. I swear, the head cook uses my cousins being around as an excuse to get creative with as many meat dishes as possible, but they're usually good. I know it's a little crowded, but there really isn't room for a larger table and right now, I feel much safer in my own rooms than anywhere else, so I hope you'll forgive me.”
There were so many things in that to answer that Kisea just went with the last one, following her to the table. “Crowded doesn't bother me nearly as much as formality does.”
“Oh, me too,” Kallima said with a heartfelt sigh, dropping back into her chair between Kian and Shon. “I can do it when I must, and I try not to be ungrateful because I know how lucky I am, but as my father says, formality is usually the obsession of those with nothing better to do. Oh, thank you.” That last was as she was served a steaming bowl by a young woman in rose madder red and goldenrod that matched, at least in colour, various servants Kisea had glimpsed in the halls.
Despite her comments about the meat, Kallima herself had soup—healer's orders, she admitted, to let her stomach recover from the recent stresses. She encouraged Kisea and the three cousins to eat well, though.
Kian had news about the various captives: that the six fighter women and the surviving man and the ferryman were to be tried by Lord Jordan personally; that the two sorceresses and the telepath were all alive and facing trial not only by him for their crimes but, following his verdict, also trial by the Assembly for Oath-breaking; that the human men had gotten involved with genuine demands to make against her father, the four mages had been behind the trap for Matt, and the six female fighters had been hired outright, though it remained unclear so far how the two plots had become one.
Kallima let him get through the summary uninterrupted, then tactfully but firmly turned the conversation to harmless subjects carrying no stress or discomfort: weather, music, travel. Kisea had to revise her assumptions several times over. Kallima, despite her privileged life, was clearly well-travelled and road-savvy, much of it from outright road-running in the disputed lands where a princess with a maid and half a dozen guards would be greeted with disdain if not hostility. Kisea suspected, as well, that even with the College not an option and despite her sex, no expense was spared on Kallima's education.
“If you decide you want to get outside later,” Kallima said, walking them to her sitting room door, “I'll be down in the stables. I feel safe there, too, and I can show you around and make it interesting even for someone not obsessed with horses, truly. But if you'd prefer to be alone and rest, that's understandable, and no one will interrupt. Ask the first servant you find for anything you need, including dinner in your own room.”
“You recovered very quickly,” Kisea said.
Kallima smiled and shrugged. “It was very bad, and I'm going to be having nightmares, but it was less than two full days and I never doubted for an instant that with a family like mine, I'd be rescued.”
“I can recommend the greatest mindhealer ever, if you need it,” Shon said.
“I'll be all right. I think it will help to be back with my horses and doing something ordinary.”
“It probably will,” Kisea agreed. “But being afraid after bad things happen is normal, and trying to pretend you aren't will only make it worse. Don't try to lock it inside. Talk to someone, anyone, that you trust. Believe me, that's the most important thing you can do right now.”
“I will. You have enough to worry about, and I have plenty of people around me that I can count on.” She gave all three alasir-blood a stern look. “You look after her.”
“That, shalis, is the plan,” Shon said, using the alasiran version of my lady and sweeping her a dramatic courtly bow. Kallima giggled and shooed them all out the door.
“Is she as balanced as she's acting?” Kisea asked Kian quietly, once the door was closed and they were walking, she assumed, back towards their rooms.
Kian nodded. “We talked a great deal last night, and she cried quite a lot, but since she woke this morning, she seems to have her feet back under her. For her, this is a unique event, not part of a pattern of abuse, and she is not alone and never has been. There is no need to fear for her, and there are others to watch over her.”
“Good. She's sweet, I'd hate to see this leave bad scars.” She hesitated. “Please don't take this wrong...”
“We can't take anything any way until you tell us,” Matt pointed out.
“I need to be alone for a while. There is entirely too much going on in my mind right now, and you've dropped a major decision in my lap, and I just need to think.”
“My room?” Matt suggested. “I can annoy Kian or Shon or possibly even go make myself useful. But all that matters as far as that decision is what you want.”
“It's more complicated than that. Trying to turn formal marriage vows and mutual legal responsibility for some forms of offences around backwards to claim that your Oath therefore includes me as well sounds lovely in theory but it's horribly risky. They could rule against it, they could decide that I arranged the whole situation, they could decide to accept it and then rule that I'm guilty of punishable crimes that you would then also suffer for...”
“Or,” Matt said softly, “they could accept my reasoning and my evidence, and go along with it.”
“Matt,” Shon said. “You're asking her to make a choice that will risk two lives that matter to her based on incomplete information. That's not fair. Kalli is safe, the crisis is past. Now is the time to explain the rest.”
Matt hesitated, then heaved a sigh. “My room, everyone, now.”
Kisea eyed him warily. “Just what aren't you telling me?”
“I did plan to,” he said. “Honestly. I'm not sure I agree that it's relevant as far as making a decision, but if Shon is that sure it is, then all right. But there are three, no, four things that need to be very clearly established before anything else.”
Kian opened the second door down a corridor, which did prove to be Matt's room, and closed it firmly once they were all inside. Matt smoothed out the chaos left of the bedding by earlier activities and sat on the edge, leaving Kisea plenty of room to join him; Shon drew over one of the chairs from the table and reversed it to straddle it, arms across the back, and Kian simply dropped to sit with crossed legs on a thick braided rug.
“What things?” Kisea asked.
“The reasons for suggesting a formalized marriage specifically are not at all the same as the reasons for wanting you back in my life. I've missed you very badly, and I would like to think that if things hadn't gone so wrong, we could've just stayed together in the first place. There's wanting to make things fair and safer for everyone, but there's also wanting you, specifically, safe and happy, and that's not the same. I would not, ever, do anything I thought was going to be bad for you.”
She knew that one already.
“Risks to me and my future are my choice to make. You hate other people trying to make decisions on your behalf. You don't get to make them on mine. I've had a long time to think and a long time to work out where my priorities are.”
“Risks you take on my behalf are on my conscience.”
“Risks I take on your behalf are because I think they're worth taking. Your happiness and safety are, ultimately, something I need in order to be happy. So, my choices to make. Clear?”
“Clear,” she said with a sigh. “What's the third thing?”
“If you don't want to marry me and challenge the Assembly, we'll think of something. Nothing in Caalden could make me take you back there and hand you over to them.” There was a grim undertone that startled her, just for being so out of character.
“And the fourth?”
“I promise, no matter what, anyone who tries to hurt you, up to and including the Joint Assembly collectively, will go through me to do it. And we have yet to find any real limits to what I can do when I'm motivated enough and don't care about the prices afterwards.”
“And a fifth thing,” Shon said quietly. “The laws being what they are, there is nothing Kian or I can do directly, but we will always be right behind you.”
“It's not only Matt anyone who means you harm would have to get past,” Kian agreed.
Kisea pulled her legs up onto the bed and crossed them, planted her elbows on her knees so she could rest her head in her hands. “You three make my head hurt. I haven't done anything to deserve that.”
“You are you, and we choose to,” Kian said simply.
“You chose to take a risk to help Kallima,” Shon said. “You have repeatedly avoided ways of protecting yourself that would be bad for any or all of the three of us. Your priorities are much less self-serving than you want us and the rest of the world to believe, or maybe than you want to believe yourself. We all choose what matters to us. A part of what matters to all three of us is you, even if that means some risk. Much the way what matters to you means allowing some risk to yourself to keep us safe.”
“All right, I surrender,” Kisea pleaded. “You're all big boys who make your own decisions, I understand. What is it that I so badly need to know?”
“When I started helping Rob five years ago,” Matt said, “it didn't take all that long to start turning over rocks and discovering just how bad things are. Some of the rocks I turned over, though, came up with odd finds that weren't directly connected to Jordan justice. Three years ago, when Shon came and we managed to establish that my Shimai and his Kisea were the same person, I started to specifically look for rumours about a siren-blood mindhealer who was doing improbable cures.”
“You what? Why not just fly a banner for the Assembly to see?”
“I did it carefully,” he protested. “A few friends and family who travel a lot or are spread out in the mixed villages have been listening and they're all people I trust to keep it to themselves. It never got into the relays.”
“Then how did you hear anything? It can take months or years for word to travel without using the relays.”
“There, he was extremely clever,” Shon said. “And did devise something apparently untraceable.”
“Paper with two glyphs on it,” Matt said. “When it's folded so the two glyphs come into contact the right way, it disappears from where it was and reappears in the locked box that's over on the shelf. No trail.”
Kisea considered that. “That really is clever.”
“You sound so surprised. I do have good ideas once in a while. I give it to a bunch of people so they can get ahold of me if they hear about anything I'd want to know, particularly if they hear of anything happening in Jordan, but there are a very few who have been listening for other things as well. Two are people you healed. It has, nearly always, taken me a long time to convince your patients and their loved ones that I truly did not mean you any harm, and there are a number of people I'm fairly sure you helped who never would talk to me. Anyway, I get rumours, and the next time I get a lull in dealing with Jordan problems, we go spend a few days paying visits. Somewhere in there, other people started hearing that I was asking questions, and started asking me questions.”
“They heard,” Shon said, “that he was asking about siren-blood telepaths, and some found that of great interest, because they had siren-blood family members who went to the College and, generally in their second or third year, their families were told they'd died through accident or sudden illness.”
“That does happen,” Kisea said. “A large number of teenagers with a limited number of adults supervising them, all learning new uses for gifts the nearest adults may not share and growing stronger all the time with practice, accidents occur, and illness occurs, especially in dense groups.”
“I know of nine,” Matt said, very gently, “who were specifically described as being uncommonly strong projective telepaths, unusually good at making two-way contact with non-telepaths, but with quite a limited distance range.”
He could have slapped her and given her less of a shock. “Like me, while I was still learning how...” She trailed off.
Matt nodded. “I don't have any proof that the Assembly has even made the connection. Maybe it's random, maybe they suicided when they realized what they were, maybe what makes you special isn't your gift, it's your gift plus not having some vulnerability most have, I don't know. Maybe none of them actually had your gift. But within twenty-five years, nine that I know of, with that particular set of traits, dying at the College...”
“Which no one else would pay any attention to at all, unless they happened by some very slight chance to know what the early manifestations of controlling look like. And almost no one knows anything except popular and usually exaggerated stories about renegades at the height of their power. Almost no one even knows what a controller really is, the only thing they hear about is one very extreme use for it. Even the name reflects it.”
“Which is why I can't prove that there's anything malicious going on. Probably negligence, at the very least inaccuracy in the facts given in the library because the evidence does clearly suggest that controllers are not born as rarely as we're taught. There are some odd little things, though. One of the ones who was reported dead sounded familiar, so I re-checked the renegades list. He's on it, as of a date after his family were told he was dead. That might be a mistake either on their part or whoever recorded it, though. Out of twenty-three listed renegade telepaths, not one is officially called a controller, but three other than you do have warnings noted about uncommonly strong projective telepathy. I don't know what to make of it, except that clearly, there's more to this. Unfortunately I can't just truthspell anyone who might actually have answers.”
“The second siren who was there... he was a controller too,” Kisea said slowly, her mind racing as all this new information tried to fit into her worldview.
“He what?” Shon said, startled.
“I didn't really have time to talk after I got that particular confirmation,” Matt said. “He's the one I had suspicions about, remember? Because of the way those poor kids he had in the whorehouse were acting?”
“I remember,” Kian said grimly.
“And he's on the renegade list. One of the three with the same warning as you.”
Kisea nodded. “He was strong, too. He said there are controllers born, but the Assembly makes sure we're killed or Blinded before anyone finds out.”
“He was,” Matt said, “a very very bad man.”
“I got that, from what he said about you interfering with his business. But that doesn't mean that was a lie. Especially combined with what you know. I didn't get the sense that he believed it was a lie.”
“What people believe is not always the truth,” Kian pointed out. “People often project their own values onto others. A ruthless man might more easily believe that others are the same.”
“There is that. But it makes all the difference in the world. If they already know all this and are behind it, then they'll probably be quite willing to sacrifice both of us to keep it quiet. If they don't and it's all just coincidence and negligence, then maybe they'll listen. I don't know. If it was only my safety, that's one thing, but...”
“We covered that,” Matt reminded her. “And, seriously, do you think I'm going to stay quiet about this forever? I'd challenge them to make sure you're safe from them anyway. But this needs to be dragged out into the open.”
“You're needed right here!”
“Dealing with justice issues on Jordan lands, while letting a Caalden-wide issue that might be affecting every controller born and might have been doing so for a long time continue to do so indefinitely without anyone noticing? And just hope that sooner or later someone else puts the pieces together and decides to actually pursue it? Do you really think I could ever forgive myself for that?”
“Given my experiences,” Shon said drily, “you can be sure we've spent a considerable amount of time talking about it. As little as I like it, he's right.”
“Sometimes,” Kian said quietly, “something matters too much to not do it.”
“You're all insane,” Kisea moaned, burying her face in her hands again. “Between you, you have a life most crossbreeds—and exiles—can only dream of, and you're making the world better in the part of it you have some power over. And you want to toss it all to the winds because there are probably, but not definitely, people being born with a gift that, to most people, is the stuff of scary stories to tell late at night, and they are possibly, but not necessarily, conveniently disappearing.”
“Because there are almost certainly people being born that no one understands and everyone fears, including themselves,” Matt corrected, still gently. “And because as a result, through malice or neglect I don't know, they are not getting a chance to live the lives they should have, they're dying or they're disappearing and living the way you have been or worse. Or they're turning out like the worst everyone fears about controllers, but they might not if they had better options. I would like to try to keep that separate from making sure you're safe, but I'm not sure whether that will be possible.”
“Oh good gods, Matt, of course it isn't going to be possible to keep them separate. This changes everything from it being just about me and you to it being a direct challenge to the Assembly!”
“It might be,” Shon agreed.
“All right, I need to think, and I can't do that with distractions. And if my stress levels get much higher, things are going to get extremely distracting all around. I seriously don't know why they aren't already. The psychic part I can control, I've caught myself on the first syllable or two starting to do the voice part and stopped myself, but there's nothing I can do about the pheromone part.”
Kian chuckled. “Some people, when they want something, seek first to possess it. For some, however, their first instinct is not to claim it, it is to protect it.”
“You told me yourself that different individuals react in different ways to siren fascination, and under different circumstances,” Shon said. “While someone who holds mistaken ideas about sirens and has no interest in you beyond the moment might consider only how to get between those beautiful legs as quickly as possible by any means, those of us who understand sirens generally and care deeply about you specifically find your ongoing well-being a higher priority. Which doesn't necessarily rule out being able to think clearly. Nor are you manipulating us, since wanting to look after you persists whether you're present or not.”
“Perhaps more emphatically,” Kian said thoughtfully. “And only at the moments you begin to feel threatened again. But, I think, not enough to interfere with judgement.”
“Enough to occasionally trigger some rather impulsive thoughts,” Matt reflected. “About half of them being fantasies of massive earthquakes under the Assembly Hall at a time when the entire Joint Assembly is meeting, oops all dead, let's start fresh. Which I would never do for real, obviously. The other half are mostly fantasies of wanting to hug you for about a nineday and then find or create a place where I could hide you and protect you and keep you safe from everything and everyone, but I'm not really so stupid that I'd try. I know where it's coming from and it's not a problem. Collecting information and making plans started a long time ago, and hasn't changed substantially.”
All of which neatly disarmed her immediate panicky thoughts about unintentionally forcing them to do what was best for her against their own best interests.
“Right, well, that's something. However, I need to think. Alone, please.”
“Not so surprising,” Shon said, getting up from the chair. Kian rose in a single smooth motion she'd seen before, legacy of spending as much time as possible in the wilderness, and Matt slithered off the bed. “An immense amount has changed very quickly where no change seemed possible, and it has stopped being only your own safety at stake. Kian's room is to the left, mine is to the right. Someone will be in one or the other in case you need us. No one will bother you until you come to us.”
Remarkable how Shon could have these moments of suddenly being all the highborn lord, completely in control.
Better still, though, was that he let himself and that Matt and Kian accepted it rather than seeing it as a threat.
She got up to kiss Shon, just for understanding, and Matt and Kian, just for being them.
For just a single mad instant, as she closed the door behind them, she considered the possibility of flight, but she discarded it as quickly as it came. She no longer had the onyx charm, and with crystal, blood, sex, and telepathic contact, there was absolutely no way Matt could not find her immediately. If he let her go, it would get him in worse trouble; either way, it would hurt him that she'd tried.
Who needed anything as crude as physical chains?
Hadn't Lady Jordan said something about that, though? That some chains were less physical, and couldn't be escaped from inside, only with outside assistance? Or something like that.
There was always the option of removing herself, irrevocably and beyond any question, from the whole mess and from the need to make an impossible decision. Then there'd not only be no more hiding and watching behind her, no more having to listen to horrible 'jokes' about sirens and horror stories about controllers, no more abuse and no more going without essentials, but also one less major risk for Matt to take and no risk of accusations of his being under her power. Challenging the Assembly with an impersonal question of justice was very different from challenging them with a controller wife as part of the situation. But he'd bring her up even if she was dead, she knew it, as evidence that not all controllers were psychopaths who dominated everyone around them and to explain how he knew so much, opening himself to accusations of bias anyway. For that matter, in a way he was biased, just by their relationship, even without considering what effect her proximity and stress might be having. He'd be safe from the claim that he was under her control, though, and he could make plans without having to consider what they meant for her.
It was still making a decision.
Even if the College just didn't know, how many controllers ended their own lives because they were alone and afraid and had no real information? How many turned to the bad because they were trying to survive, or learned to hate themselves and everyone else? How many were surviving in ways that made them the victims, beyond even most sirens, because it was the most bearable path of the few they could find? How many were being murdered just for existing?
How many more would?
How many other lives damaged because of what happened to a controller child, sibling, lover, friend?
She settled herself on the bed, legs crossed.
And turned all the self-discipline she'd ever developed to trying to sort out the chaos of her thoughts and feelings.
* * *
The sky was darkening to twilight by the time she went looking for them. Her still-raw inner senses nonetheless suggested going towards Kian's room, and she tapped on the door with her nails.
Shon opened it, beckoned her inside.
Kian turned away from a table similar to Matt's, but strewn with arrow shafts and feathers and sundry such paraphernalia, where he was working on the fletching of an arrow. Matt was on a reading couch under the other window, his feet tucked up beside him, with a book he was now closing, and probably hadn't even noticed the low light level. In front of a square cushion on the floor were several knives and daggers, along with what she thought were oil and a whetstone and other things. It all suggested an easy camaraderie, together and individual at once.
Which, ultimately, she was being invited into, assuming this worked.
None asked; the question was too obvious for there to be any point.
She crossed the room towards Matt, and he got up to meet her, grey eyes searching hers.
She took a deep breath. “I think somehow I've become just as mad as you are. And I think you're as brilliant and as brave as you are mad. And somehow the one bit of really good luck in my life is having you decide that you care. I am more terrified than I think I've ever been, which is saying a lot, and after a childhood spent trying to be invisible and ten years of running constantly, not running makes it even more scary. If it was only about us... I don't know. I'm not sure I could live with what I'd have to do to get clear without you being accused of helping me, but I'm not sure I could live with any of the other options, either. But it isn't just us, and there's no other controller who has you. I never seem to be able to walk away from pain, and if there are other controllers being born but there's no sign of them, that's a lot of pain. Yes, I'll marry you, and face the Assembly with you, and hope that we both make it through it intact so we can actually have a life afterwards and I can help Kian and Shon and Jori try to keep you alive.”
Matt wrapped both arms around her, hugged her tight, and she buried her face in his shoulder, letting herself lean for the moment on his strength because hers seemed to be at a low ebb.
“We'll make everything right,” he said.
“But I need one promise from all three of you.”
“If things go very wrong and they manage, somehow, to Blind me, you'll kill me. Preferably before, but at the very least, I don't want to live like that. And it's less than certain whether I'd have enough of a mind left to do it myself.”
“I'd have to be dead or very close to it myself for that to happen,” Matt said.
“I promise,” Kian said quietly. “You will not live Blinded.”
“So do I,” Shon said, after only a brief pause. “I would, obviously, prefer almost any other possibility, but if all else fails, then yes.”
Kisea looked up at Matt, waiting.
He sighed, nodded. “Me too. But it won't happen.”
“Even you have limits. Since the two things that frighten me most are living Blinded and you ruining your life over me, and I can stop worrying about the one and you won't listen to reason about the other, I suppose I can live with whatever comes.”
Matt ran a hand over her hair, pressed a kiss to her forehead. “How are you feeling, physically? Able to leave tomorrow?”
“I can do anything that needs to be done, dear. Why so fast?”
“One reason is that not knowing what's going to happen is a ghastly feeling that I'd rather make as short as possible for all of us.”
“And.” He sighed, released her. “Word gets around at the speed of thought, and nothing Rob orders can completely stop that. We don't know whether others were involved in this hostage mess who are going to be investigating. I would much prefer that we show up in front of the Assembly voluntarily and challenge them ourselves, than have the Assembly act first.”
“The College is days from here.”
“No, the College is many miles from here. The time it takes to cover those miles, and for that matter how long those miles are, those are more flexible.”
“I'm in no condition to help afterwards!”
“Any idea how long until you are?” Shon asked her.
“I'm not exactly hurt, it's more like the equivalent of muscle strain from doing too much. Three days?”
“That's too long,” Matt said. “I always survive.”
“How long to reach the College with no help at all from Kisea?” Shon asked Matt.
Matt pondered, his eyes losing focus as he worked out variables. “It's nine to ten days at regular speed, maybe as little as six with remounts if you push them hard. There are multiple broken fields between here and there that will interfere. Four days? Remounts are no help, since I'd have to interrupt the spell to stop and switch horses.”
“And how long for you to recover afterwards?”
“Completely,” Kian added. “Which I do not believe you are now or would be by tomorrow.”
“I'll be almost full-strength by tomorrow,” Matt said. “Less than two days at the other end to recover.”
“Completely? Physically and mentally as well as magically? Because you cannot protect Kisea properly if you're at less than full strength. You would not allow excessive haste to put her at even the slightest further risk, correct?”
“This isn't being hasty, this is wanting the strategic high ground!” Matt sighed. “Fine, call it two days, but I could probably do it in less.”
“I know it's a guess,” Shon said, “but evidence seems to suggest that it would be substantially reduced by Kisea being able to help you when we stop. Any estimate as to how much?”
“Yes, evidence does. At a guess, a day less to recover, since I'd be less drained. Maybe faster and farther each day, if I'm resting better.”
“Nine to ten days,” Shon said, “is for riders who can stay in the saddle and moving all day. Jori carrying double all the way is out of the question. I'm sure we can arrange a horse for Kisea...”
“I'm no good at riding,” Kisea protested.
Shon nodded. “It isn't a skill you've had much chance to learn. Nine to ten days is a reasonable time for riders who are accustomed to being in the saddle all day, repeatedly. If we do that to you for even one day, with or without Matt playing games with time and space, you'll be unable to even get on the horse the next. I very much doubt Matt's healing abilities are strong enough to counter that more than partially.”
Matt looked abashed. “I forgot about that.”
“We will get there as quickly as we can, but unless you've devised a way to move us collectively the way you make the paper move into the box, then it is going to take several days.”
“Interesting idea, but not something I'm going to be able to work out quickly enough for it to be useful.”
“We cannot reasonably leave earlier than tomorrow evening,” Kian said. “You two have very limited camping gear, most of my gear and virtually all of Kisea's is lost, she lacks even clothes, and none of that will materialize overnight.”
“Admittedly, it would be good to leave as soon as we can,” Shon said. “Rob is, technically, a sworn relay telepath. We left out a few details in our telling, more for his sake than any belief he would act against you. What he doesn't officially know, he can deny even under truthspell. What he may suspect, or what Kallima might have said while exhausted after an ordeal, are another matter entirely.”
“Through human lands, a night-ride will mean less chance of encountering others,” Kian mused. “It is not necessary for magic to be involved immediately, either, we can ride straight for a time.” He looked at Shon. “Leave tomorrow evening, which will mean we're out of the Manor and moving, no magic for at least the first night's travel, which will allow time for Kisea to learn and to heal further, and on the next we can decide whether we need another night of riding straight or not?”
Shon considered that, and nodded slowly. “That will work.”
“Will it?” Matt said drily. “Well, that's nice to know.”
“You do what you do, cousin, and let us do what we do,” Shon said patiently. “Which is look after you despite yourself and make sure things get done. We do need to let Rob and Kara know as soon as possible, and it would likely be just as well to take care of the formalities so we can focus on getting ready.”
Matt sighed. “All right, I know when to surrender.” Kisea felt a flicker of telepathy against her overly-sensitized senses. “Family sitting room,” he reported. “They're just finishing dinner and going there. I didn't realize it was that late. We can come now. Am I really that often, that crazy, that asking him to marry us right now doesn't get any reaction of surprise at all?”
“In part,” Shon laughed. “And, in part, your uncle is a highly observant man.”
Kisea got completely lost again on the way there.
The door was open; the room turned out to be larger than Kallima's sitting room, with the same level of high-quality furnishings that were everywhere here, but upholstered chairs and couches were arranged in an arc around the hearth, and the table across the room had two different game boards on it shoved to one side, and the floor was covered heavily with braided rag rugs in gay colours. This was, emphatically, a space for a loving couple and their children and family to spend time together.
Lady Jordan was wearing a skirt this time, and looking altogether proper and elegant even if the colours and embroidery were more muted than they could have been, her hair in two braids again. She was on one couch with a boy in his mid or late teens.
Lord Jordan—in a blueberry-coloured tunic with elaborate embroidery around the edges—was on the other couch with a girl who might be just edging into her teens. Kisea hadn't really seen him last night: the lines of his face reminded her of Kian, in particular, though that sandy-brown hair and tanned skin were very different, and he had the build of a man who stayed active rather than letting those around him do everything. Hadn't Matt told her once that he spent as much time as he could arrange in the stables and horse-pastures personally? A telepath crystal glittered at his throat, above the familiar red-and-gold horse on a second chain.
“We need to get married, formally and officially, as quickly as possible,” Matt said to Lord Jordan. “Would you? Please?”
Lady Jordan sighed. “I should have known I'd never get a chance to plan a proper wedding celebration for you.”
“Once we're sure we'll be able to celebrate. After a very large issue of justice that unfortunately is not under Jordan jurisdiction is corrected.”
Lord Jordan only nodded. “Kalli's gone to get a contract from my office. I can personally verify lack of duress. Rather than disturb Elric purely for that, of course, and we don't need him to have enough witnesses, with Kalli and Kara and Shon and Kian—sorry Tobin, Adelia, you aren't legal age yet.”
Matt echoed the nod. “Thank you.”
“Does this much haste mean you're leaving just as quickly?” Lady Jordan asked.
“Tomorrow evening. We're going to ride at night, apparently. I need to discuss something with the Assembly and I would rather go to them before they come looking for me.”
“High ground is a better position all around,” Lord Jordan said, rising and offering his wife a hand to her feet. He stretched, and stepped around the arc of seats so his back was to them, facing Kisea and the three alasir-blood. “I'm not going to ask, it's your own business, but I hope you know I trust you and you have my full support, on or off Jordan lands.”
“I know,” Matt said. “And thank you. But I don't think you can help with this one. Other than marrying us and maybe lending us a horse so Jori doesn't have to carry double.”
“Oh, I think we can probably find a horse somewhere, there are one or two about.”
Kallima darted back in the room with a sheet of heavy paper in her hand. “I found it.”
Lord Jordan held out a hand to Matt and one to Kisea; both laid their hands in his. “Let's see if I can remember all the words. I haven't done this often or recently.”
“You can leave out the line about monogamy, at least on her part,” Matt said as an afterthought. “That's a lot like having a line in mine about vegetarianism.”
The thought of only a single lover was actually a rather pleasant one, at least in theory, but she had to admit that he was probably right. Siren-blood notoriously had difficulty with marriage as an exclusive sexual relationship, regardless of intimacy and commitment. It was all too likely her siren side would start to chafe at that.
“I think under the circumstances we can skip the question of whether there is any reason to question the validity of this,” Lord Jordan said. “I assume you know what you're doing and there are no special terms to be spelled out at this point. So, the important part.”
The words blurred a bit for Kisea, though she echoed them back faithfully. He could, right then, have inserted a line with a promise to stay at home and have babies and cook every day, and she wouldn't have noticed. Well, probably not.
Matt repeated each line right after her, his voice absolutely steady.
Lord Jordan joined their hands together, wrapped his own around them. “The law recognizes and confirms the union that binds you already in heart and spirit. I devoutly hope everything works out as well as you both deserve and you can come back quickly so we can celebrate properly.”
As soon as his uncle let go, Matt pulled her closer, both arms around her, and gave her a kiss that did quite a lot to dispel the dazed feeling. Laws and vows were only symbols, after all; as Lord Jordan had said, they were already bound in the way that mattered most.
Lady Jordan unfastened her own red-and-gold necklace, twin to the ones the alasir-blood cousins all wore, and handed it to Matt; he turned Kisea with a hand on her shoulder so he could clasp it in place for her.
“Welcome to the family,” Lady Jordan said, smiling.
Kisea and Matt had to sign the contract first, then Lord Jordan, then all four witnesses.
“My seal is in my office,” Lord Jordan said. “Will you leave this in my hands until tomorrow?”
Matt nodded. “Thanks. And I will get back to work soon.”
“Everything else can wait. Consider yourself officially on leave for as long as you need.”
“Leaving tomorrow allows very little time to get ready,” Lady Jordan said briskly. “Clothes that you can ride in, at the very least.”
“If I know you,” Kallima added, “you won't be stopping at inns to sleep, at least partially because they won't be right where you need them when you wear yourself out. If it rains, that will be absolutely miserable with minimal or no gear.”
Her mother nodded. “And you won't want to get there so exhausted you can barely think coherently. We'll see what we can arrange. Off you go and get some rest, all four of you.”
* * *
Once the quartet were gone, Rob traded sober glances with his wife.
“Alina,” she said, and he nodded.
“Alina needs to know.”
“Is Matt going to be all right?” Adelia asked worriedly.
“Of course he will,” Kallima said, hugging her sister close reassuringly. “You know Matt. He's always getting into trouble and he always gets through it.” Her expression, though, said that she was less sure, and Adelia was telepath enough to pick up on that and be less than convinced.
“And he has Shon watching his back now too, not just Kian,” Tobin said. Both the younger children were fascinated by their alasir almost-cousin; Rob and Kara had concluded that they approved without reservation. Tobin could certainly have chosen a worse role model, or Adelia a worse infatuation. And their elder daughter's relationship with him, well, that was between them to work out without interference.
At the mention of Shon's name, Adelia relaxed visibly. “That's true. They'll be fine.”
*All right, Kalli, what aren't you telling?*
*The same thing Kian and Shon left out, for the same reason. Because there's a potential conflict of interest there for you.*
Rob picked up the marriage contract. “Keep me company to my office, Kalli? This is likely to get lost or damaged here, and if I don't add the seal now, it'll get forgotten tomorrow.” He gave Kara a quick kiss. “We'll be right back.”
Kallima fell into step with him, not asking, along the corridor and down a flight of stairs to his own office. Matt's was only a few doors down, along with Kara's and those of several Manor employees who handled a great deal of paperwork. No one was likely to be around at this hour.
Rob closed the door firmly, leaned against it.
“My Oath as a telepath matters,” he said quietly. “But responsibility to my people and my family comes before all else. If worst comes to worst, Tobin knows nothing and your mother can act as regent until he comes of age. Let me guess. Kisea is Shimai, who is legally a renegade and ran away from the College for reasons unknown. At least, unknown to anyone but her and Matt.”
“And Kian and Shon and Jori, I'd say,” Kallima said. “Now, if not then. She told me she's a controller. I believe her, she can do things I've never seen a telepath do. But you know Matt wouldn't trust her if she were even remotely capable of being like the ones in the stories. My cousins are still definitely themselves, and is it even possible for anyone to influence Jori?”
“No, probably not.”
“So everything suggests that she is exactly what she looks like, only hiding a gift that probably no one really understands. And Matt knew all along why she ran away.”
“A siren mindhealer who does improbable cures,” Rob murmured thoughtfully. “That's what he asked his parents and Kian's to listen for rumours about, and to do it very discreetly. If a controller can tear a mind apart, maybe a controller could put one back together. But the Oath explicitly forbids all manifestations and uses of the controller gift.”
“And how's Matt going to react to a blanket condemnation like that? Judging anyone born with a particular gift, however rare, without giving them any chance to demonstrate how they'll use it?”
“Poorly,” Rob sighed. “Even in the abstract, let alone with the safety of someone he still feels strongly about on the line. I'm inclined to agree with him.”
“Why the formalized marriage, though?”
“It would certainly be less easy for the Assembly to condemn out-of-hand a renegade who happens to be the documented and recognized wife of not only a well-known sorcerer in good standing but one with an office as powerful as Matt's. They can't make her disappear the way they might someone with no family and no influence.”
“Could he argue that his Oath covers her as well?”
“That's probably what he intends. Whether the Assembly will agree, however, is another matter. Especially for a controller. Well. Matt is family, and now so is Kisea, by any name. They can use all the support available. I can tell Alina now and they can start for the College.”
“Depending on where they are, we might be able to have someone meet them with fresh horses and remounts and supplies.”
“A good thought. Kisea needs a horse. One of yours, maybe?”
“Honey,” she said, after brief consideration. “She'll do fine with an inexperienced rider but she'll be able to keep up with Rose and Butterfly.”
“It might help if I'm there to back Matt up. I imagine they'll protest and try to find a way around it, however.”
Kallima grinned at him. “I don't care if Matt's using magic, you and I with a remount each can get to the College almost as quickly. Especially since they'll have to slow down with a new rider.”
“Sweetheart, you were just...”
“I just went through something that was very bad, but it wasn't just my cousins that got me out of it, it was Kisea too, at least as much. I'm all right, really. And you aren't leaving me behind. Just try.”
Rob had seen that gleam in his sister's eyes a thousand times, and had learned when to surrender—because to continue objecting was an invitation for her to do something on her own, and if she was with him, at least he'd know she was safe. “All right. What else can we do?”
“Gear. We can at least make certain they get there in reasonable condition. Kisea and Kian dropped most of what they had when Matt and Shon turned up, apparently so Matt could adjust for Kisea's weight as well or something. In Kian's case, that's annoying, but I'm not hearing anything about Kisea having a home anywhere—before now—so probably that was most of what she owned. Mama always says clothes are a tool. Kisea confronting the Assembly in crimson brocade layered skirts is going to be less comfortable and also less sympathetic than Kisea confronting them in the kinds of clothes someone who lives on the road is used to. She's taller than Alina or I and curvier than Lori but I'll see what I can do.” She thought again. “Maybe a riding lesson. Shon's good and he can help a lot, but women are built differently and have a different centre of balance.”
“All good thoughts,” Rob agreed. It was Jordan's loss that his eldest child couldn't inherit while her brother was able to, but with any luck Tobin would have enough sense to listen to her. Besides, she'd probably be happier as the head of the stables and breeding program, in which Tobin had limited interest, and helping her brother when he needed it—and it was a role that would give her far more freedom in her personal life than a title would have.
“Keep watch for me, and I'll get a message started to Alina?” he asked, and she nodded, moving over to stand in front of the door. He settled himself in his chair comfortably, back straight, and closed his eyes. One deep breath, two, and he reached outwards, searching.
Before his own brother had decided that they'd both be happier with Rob holding the title, he'd been not only Chris' extra hands and eyes but also his own personal relay telepath, something they'd expected would be a permanent arrangement—even when it became clear that the sister several years younger than Rob was an even stronger telepath.
As it was, it helped enormously with maintaining communications, that he and Alina could both use the relays.
He brushed against the mind of his own house relay telepath Elric, who acknowledged him without surprise. While Elric handled the bulk of the messages in and out of Jordan Manor and relayed messages through, Rob still took care of his own personal communications. That meant reaching out, covering as much ground as possible, and connecting himself to the web of telepath minds that linked all of Caalden. Messages could race from the remote South to the farthest North in a matter of hours or less, depending only on the links that were active at that particular moment. With thousands of telepaths who had reasonably strong gifts and reasonable range all trained and many of them employed primarily or at least secondarily in that capacity, there were many possible routes for any message to follow.
*Well, good evening, my lord,* came the saucy reply from a telepath he recognized immediately, a woman who lived in a town elsewhere in the Jordan province. She being the closest relay telepath outside the Manor, he encountered her most of the time when he did this from home. *Looking for your sister?*
*Yes. I'm not sure where she is. The last I heard was in the vicinity of Blackwood in Guarin heading towards Sleeping Bear in the disputed lands.*
*We'll find her. What's the message?*
*Matt is headed for the College fast and may need us against the Assembly. Situation is complicated. Tell me if we can arrange horses and supplies.*
*Oh my,* she whispered, all humour gone. *He's challenging the Assembly? I know I shouldn't ask, but... over what?*
*What matters most to Matt, of course. Justice and honesty, understanding and compassion, and any trespass against them. Up against Assembly politics, he needs all the support he can get.*
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